TARPON SPRINGS — It's 1934 and a huge night for the Cleveland Grand Opera Company.
The world famous Tito Merelli — the greatest tenor of his time — is set to sing the lead in Verdi's opera Otello. The opera company's general manager, Saunders, is sure this will put the company on the operatic map, but Tito is nowhere to be found.
Laughter, however, is all over the place as Lend Me a Tenor, a Tony Award-winning comedy by Ken Ludwig, takes the stage at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center.
The curtain rises at 8 p.m. Friday, and performances continue this weekend and next at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, 324 Pine St. Tickets are $20, or $17 for members and students.
Director Rick Hite said audiences should be prepared to laugh "until their stomachs hurt."
"I picked this show because it's the funniest comedy I've ever seen," said Hite, a language arts teacher at Pinellas Park Middle School. "The dialogue is just hysterical."
Take this crisp exchange between a harried Saunders (played by Rick Bronson) and his jumpy, brown-nosing assistant, Max (Keith Seger). As they rush around preparing for Tito's arrival, they finish each other's sentences at a dizzying pace.
Saunders: "All right, Max, this is it. ... You will give him whatever he wants except ...''
Max: "... liquor and women.''
Saunders: "At the performance you will lead a spontaneous ..."
Max: "... standing ovation.''
Saunders: "And return him to the reception keeping him ..."
Max: "... sober.''
Saunders: "With his hands ...
Max: "... to himself ...''
Saunders: "... at which point he can ...'
Max: "... drop dead ...''
Saunders: "... for all we care.''
Tito (Tom Bronson) does finally arrive, but he's drunk. And a few mishaps later, he does drop dead (or at least that's what Max and Saunders think) but it's before the performance.
Of course, the show must go on, so Saunders begs Max to impersonate the opera star, who will be in blackface anyway.
Max is petrified at the thought. After all, he has only hummed the opera in the bathtub.
Seger said he's enjoying his leading role as Max, particularly the metamorphosis his character undergoes during the two-hour play.
"At first he's very nervous, then he becomes an impostor living his dream, and by the end of the play, he has gained self-confidence," Seger said. "It works out well for me because I am always nervous at the beginning of every play and by the end I can relax."
The farce, a fun and outrageous romp full of slamming doors, mistaken identities, double entendres and high jinks, opened on Broadway in 1989. It received nine Tony nominations, winning two, and enjoyed a Broadway revival in 2010.
The cast of eight also features Drew Lundquist as a wisecracking bellhop; Michelle Procida as Saunders' daughter Maggie; and Beth Phillips as Tito's jealous wife, Maria. Georgia Kosloski plays Julia, "the Chrysler Building,'' and Susi Dachs performs as the seductive soprano Diana.
Tenor is not only known for its rib-tickling lines but its unusual curtain call.
Not wanting to spoil the ending for his audiences, Hite would only say, "If they miss the show, they can come to the curtain call and see the whole thing."
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